Shiny Shelf


Harker: The Book of Solomon

By Mark Clapham on 13 October 2009

‘Harker’ is the last of the books I picked up at BICS that I’m reviewing here, and it’s an odd one. It’s a crime book, with an odd-couple of British detectives (middle-aged maverick genius Harker, and his younger, more socially acceptable sidekick, Critchley). In this first volume, they investigate ritualistic murders in London’s Bloomsbury, an area where I spent most of my time between the mid 1990s and, ooh, about a month ago.

There have been a number of crime comics in the last few years, most obviously Brubaker and Phillips’ excellent ‘Criminal’, but also a handful of good crime titles from Vertigo and others. However, ‘Harker’ is nothing if not different from those other comics. For a start, it’s British, not in alienatingly parochial sense that will send Americans diving for the internet to decipher the references, but in terms of a very deadpan, British wit.

The other difference is more significant – whereas all the other crime comics out there are heavily influenced by stories of real life crime and the genre conventions of hardboiled noir, ‘Harker’ isn’t influenced by either. Instead, this is a comic that draws heavily on the conventions of mainstream TV detective shows. This isn’t a procedural steeped in the reality of policing, it’s a mystery – the two detectives don’t gather evidence and statements, they barge around looking for clues, discovering the identity of the killer just in time for an action-packed finale.

What makes ‘Harker’ an odd and, to my mind, slightly disconcerting read is the different directions that the story and art are pulling in. It’s not a conflict between writer Roger Gibson and artist Vince Danks – they plotted the story together, and both clearly intend to be doing exactly what they’re doing – it’s just I couldn’t quite reconcile in my head the sharp realism and geographical accuracy of Danks’ linework with the reality-defying madness of the story.

An example – Harker and Critchley go to an occult bookshop, one which is situated in roughly the same place as a real occult bookshop in Bloomsbury. The street they’re in, the shop itself, are all beautifully rendered and photo-referenced. Very atmospheric and precise. But then the portrayal of the occult in the story is a made-up orgiastic Satanism, rather than being rooted in any real-life practice. Not to give away any spoilers, but they also go behind the scenes at a major location where there are major areas unseen by the general public but well-documented by various staff down the years. Instead, we get some ‘Scooby Doo’ catacombs. When Critchley – a detective in Britain’s unarmed police force, lest we forget – turns out to carry a gun all the time, my brain practically fell out.

It’s this combination of super-realistic art and broadbrush, cartoony storytelling, especially set around real locations I know very well, that stopped me enjoying ‘The Book of Solomon’ as much as I hoped I would. On first glance, it promises to immerse the reader in the minutae of policing and a contemporary London setting, but once you’re into the story the detail all proves to be made up. Now, I wouldn’t mind if these fictional details were particularly interesting, but unfortunately they’re not that exciting – the vacuum left by an absence of research is filled with the standard genre tropes of mystery shows and ‘ritualistic killing’ thrillers.

I don’t want to be too down on ‘Harker’. The art and characterisation work really well, and Gibson and Danks know how to set up and run a murder mystery. The creators have ambitious plans for ‘Harker’, and future arcs promise to take the two detectives on a tour of both the world and the murder mystery genre. I’ll definitely come back for the next volume. I just hope that, if they’re not planning on telling a crime story rooted in the real world, the creators apply enough metafictional spin and invention to push ‘Harker’ beyond its TV-inspired roots.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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